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A Review on Research Areas in Enhanced oil recovery

Abstract
Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) spans a wide area of research to increase oil reserves and production. This article is a general review on enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and research problems. Although the focus of EOR is to inject fluid or fluids to reduce surface tension and increase the swept area, a multitude of problems are faced when processes are to be applied to reservoirs which are usually complex in structure and located in increasingly harsh areas. Using current EOR technology, extraction of oil approaches 50% of the oil in place. More research is needed to find methods that are effective and cheap.

Keywords: Enhanced oil recovery, drive mechanisms, surface tension, water injection, research Background
Although claims that the Chinese and other old civilisations had used some kind of fluid from the ground for fuel a long time ago, the industry as is known today has its beginning in Titusville, a small town in Pennsylvania, where the first oil well was drilled in 1859 by the Drake oil company. [1] At 69.5 feet, it was just as deep as many water wells in some countries today. Although in the sixties, the price of oil was in the one or two USD range, in 1795-1800, crude oil was quoted as USD16. [1] If the price were to be compared with the price of gold, which was about USD19 per ounce in 1800 [2], then the price of oil today at more than USD100 per barrel is undervalued since the price of gold was USD914 in January 2008 . However, the aim of this paper is not to predict the price of oil, which has never followed predictions, but to review enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and present research opportunities either directly or indirectly related to EOR processes. Nevertheless in any industry, the economic viability of a process is just as important as the results it delivers. Therefore EOR discussion will always be related to the price of oil. The oil industry has always operated in remote regions, and small towns often mushroomed with the industry. Those were the times of what is now termed 'easy oil' when reservoirs are large, shallow and, if offshore, shallow water. For example the Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia found in 1948 is 230 km by 30 km with reservoirs reaching 1300 ft thick. [3] Nowadays, fields are found in even more uninhabitable places such as Sakhalin where the temperatures are below zero for most of the year. Reservoirs off the Brazilian coast and east coast of Sabah are found where water depths are one to two km. It is therefore not surprising that the cost of one well can be as high as USD120 million. Enhanced oil recovery is an attractive alternative to finding new sources since at least 50% of oil still remains in the ground after a reservoir has been produced. The challenge is to produce at an economical rate.

Oil Production and Drives
Before any process to produce oil or gas is chosen, the characteristics of a reservoir must be identified since production depends on the type of reservoir. Reservoirs are porous media mostly made of sandstone and carbonates. Oil reservoirs containing only oil and water in the pores exist when the reservoir pressure is higher than the bubble point pressure and is known as undersaturated reservoirs. When oil is produced from this type of reservoir, the reduced reservoir pressure causes liquid to expand thereby causing the oil to be pushed to the well. If the pressure drops below the bubble point, gas that exists as dissolved gas in the oil and water phases is liberated, providing more force but at the same time will be removed with the oil. This driving force or drive mechanism is weak and usually less than 5% of oil can be

A reservoir is abandoned when the rate of oil produced becomes uneconomical and the amounts of gas and water produced are high compared with oil flow rate. When a reservoir is found. Injection of gas into the gas cap helps to maintain the drive. IOR is any process that increases production and reserves (commercially recoverable deposits) which means it includes among others EOR. Other properties include no reaction with the rocks or minerals in the rocks. The problem with water as a displacing fluid is the lower viscosity when compared with most oils. surface tension. Rock-fluid attraction attraction and fluid-fluid Enhanced Oil recovery. Conversely. cleaning up wells to increase production rate. a property of the injected fluid is to reduce surface tension such as surfactant or to induce miscibility with oil such as liquid CO2. an oil wet reservoir will attract oil to its surface instead of flowing to the well. fracturing reservoir rocks to improve flow. EOR vs. cheap. it is now a standard practice Oil and gas reservoirs are porous media which contain two or three fluids. Polymer can be added to the water. If water covers the rock surface while the oil phase is enclosed or separated by water from the rock surface. then the system is water wet. known as connate water or interstitial water in all reservoirs. The attraction between fluid and rock surface determines the wettability of the rocks. Improved Oil recovery. The way the reservoirs were formed resulted in the presence of water in the pores. drilling more wells. hot water flooding and steam flooding. This type of rocks allows oil to flow easier than water. Consequently. Under primary production. for oil companies to institute pressure maintenance by either water or gas injection from the beginning of production. a higher recovery can be obtained since the reservoir is supported by an aquifer. in a pattern. Water being more mobile then tends to bypass the oil. EOR. as usual. even with many types of drives. ability to withstand high temperature and pressure and. primary recovery alone produces less than 30% of oil for most reservoirs. Any other injection process after secondary recovery was called tertiary recovery. When a reservoir has an aquifer and a gas cap. . the recovery will also be higher [Fig. The term augmented recovery is sometimes encountered but it had not taken off in the industry. resulting in zero surface tension. the gas cap expands pushing the oil towards the production well. the water is assumed to be present but immobile. Dake [4] and Craft et al [5] are excellent references on reservoir behaviour. When fluid is injected to expel oil. Consequently. are used for injection to push oil from many directions towards the production well (Fig 2). However. giving rise to polymer flooding. However. 1].recovered under expansion drive. the amount of oil recovered is related to the driving force as described earlier and also the attraction between the oil /rock surface and other fluids i. It increases the expulsive drive during primary recovery by expanding when the reservoir pressure drops. Primary recovery is production occurring as a natural process. Under water drive. More detailed description of EOR processes can be found in van Poollen [6] and Latil [7]. EOR now is generally accepted as the processes that involve injection of fluid or fluids.e. IOR or augmented recovery Water injection was used initially to maintain or increase reservoir pressure after primary production.This process is called water flooding. The presence of gas cap in saturated reservoirs results in gas cap drive which gives a higher recovery than expansion drive. Gas injection is another method to increase the pressure and is usually used in reservoirs with gas cap. the terms secondary and tertiary often became difficult to differentiate. IOR Secondary recovery was the term applied to waterflooding. Areal sweep is improved when a few wells. improving seismic process etc.

in Saudi Arabia. two other properties are important.based oil). Past and current research papers available in the E-library of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) can be accessed via the online database of IRC. For example. on the other hand. For example. Depending on the deposition history. Since a major aim of EOR is to improve sweep the presence of shale or other barriers such as faults posed a problem. namely porosity and permeability. to swell. research then focused on formulation of polymers that can withstand high pressure. reservoir structure. Elibrary contains peer reviewed published papers. fresh water may cause the clay . do not biodegrade but are degraded by high shearing which occurs at high velocity. research in subsurface flow has to deal with more complex systems. often containing shale. any injection strategy must address the issue. demulsifiers are needed. Often a polymer does not satisfy all requirements such as xanthan can withstand high pressure and temperature. deposition and other similar disciplines. but it is prone to biodegradation. [9] Many oil reservoirs in Sudan and Venezuela are heavy oil with viscosities in 500-1000 cP or higher. Research areas Investigations into improving sweep and reducing surface tension have been reported since the 70s but as usual more problems are encountered in trying to solve an existing problem. papers from proceedings and any paper submitted to SPE. petroleum engineers (especially reservoir engineers) deal mostly with the fluids. Fresh water can be considered but for reservoirs containing clay. However. therefore. Iran and Iraq. temperature and salinity. but since reservoirs have high pressures and temperatures and contain brine. salinity and shear degradation. Permeability studies are a well established area but with more complex multiphase flow in EOR. Since reservoirs are porous media. location and space for additional facilities such as pumps and compressors are important since large volumes of injected fluids require large pumping and compressing machines. Injected fluids must not cause precipitation that will block flow paths. use of polymer started as a step to improve sweep. Malaysian reservoirs are all offshore except for one and questions concerning size of platform. resulting in EOR research to span a wide range of problem solving. Reservoirs also cover large areas in the order of hundreds of acres. the differences may be significant with large variations in permeability.Other important factors in EOR Other factors that are needed to be considered in EOR are many. faults and Flow behaviour Unlike geologists who deal with types of rocks. and permeabilities usually ranging from 20-100 mD. The presence of aquifer increases drive but it may also cause water to flood wells prematurely. If surfactants are added to the injection water. Some reservoirs may have a high percentage of heavy alkanes (paraffin-based oil) or asphalts (asphalt. Dulang field [8] for example is split up into many compartments. then the type of surfactants used must be resistant to high pressure and temperature and salinity. Most oils are sweet without corrosive sulphur or sulphur compounds. consequently. porosity and presence of fractures. Polyacrylamides. the reservoirs can be 1000 ft thick of clean sand with high permeability while Malaysian reservoirs are usually in the 30 to 80 feet thick. Operational considerations Sea water is usually used in water injection for offshore reservoirs. some aspects of geology are important in oil and gas production. The oil produced may also consist of a high percentage of emulsion of crude oil water and chemicals injected. As such. The advantage of Malaysian crudes is the low viscosity which is usually less than one centipoise at reservoir condition. reservoirs are heterogeneous because rock properties differ from one point to another.

[12] Variations of injection methods were investigated e. Development of better and more accurate tracers is being pursued by many companies. it has to be modelled in order to predict the amount of oil recovered. As at January 2001. nitrogen. 2) mechanisms of displacement In order to formulate a chemical and design a suitable process. Research related to EOR is similarly diverse and. it may be radioactive. 5) injectivity and water quality Fluids may cause clogging of the pores after some years of injection. Carbon dioxide that is present in several major gas fields may be used for injection. As the name suggests. Injection fluid is an area of research by itself. Malaysia's gas reserves stood at 97. a slug of water is injected followed by a slug of gas and the two slugs are then pushed by water.000 BPD in the US. Reinjection of dissolved gas produced from oil production is necessary in countries where flaring is not allowed and transportation of gas to the markets is not possible. Surfactant may not perform with high salinity water. the reduction in viscosity is an advantage which water does not have. Although many field studies on WAG have given positive results. Consideration of platform space. Knowing the mechanisms will also assist in predicting recovery. One of the ways to improve displacement efficiencies is to use more than one injection fluid such as water alternating gas (WAG).g. studies are necessary to find the mechanisms of fluid flow through porous media at high pressure and temperature and how the injected fluid displaces fluid in the pores at micro-scale. sensors. The oil industry spans a range of activities that require expertise and knowledge in many disciplines. 4) equipment design and optimisation Almost all of Malaysian reservoirs are offshore and any EOR projects must be designed for offshore environment. 3) tracing displacement The position of the displacement front when fluid is injected into the reservoir is essential to estimate sweep and to ensure that fluid is not flowing into areas that do not have oil. Some chemicals may be corrosive and in the case of tracers. other keys areas that are being and need to be investigated are: 1) prediction of recovery Before a process can be implemented. some reservoirs are not suitable for WAG. Flue gases are hot and therefore for high viscosity oil. It is related to high speed computing. Simulation and modelling of reservoirs under EOR process is a highly investigated area. compressors. In other words. Water may be replaced by foam and the gas may be air.shale beds. Radioactive tracers are usually used for monitoring displacement front. In 2005. Injection water has to be treated if salt in sea water is too concentrated. such as using nanofluid. challenging. water and gas are injected simultaneously or variations of the liquid phase and the gas phase give rise to other WAG methods. very often. the environmental effects of these gases are of great concern in many instances. Apart from improving sweep and reducing surface tension. 6) Oilfield chemicals . Heterogeneity makes it difficult to model and also to improve sweep. sometimes referred to as hybrid WAG or modified WAG. size and cost will affect the economic viability of the project. hydrocarbon gas and flue gas are substantial in literature. natural gas or CO2.6 trillion cubic feet (tcf)[11]. rock and fluid properties studies. pumps and other equipment have to be redesigned for multiphase fluids which are commonly found in EOR processes. [10] While many problems of waterflooding are not overcome by gas flooding. the oil production by CO2EOR came to 237. Reports on gas flooding such as CO2. economic studies and software development. Meters.

New and more effective EOR technologies are needed to extract the remaining oil. The USD100+ per barrel price today hopefully will be a lesson to the oil industry to continue R&D spending even when oil price is low. When the price of oil shot up from USD 1-2 per barrel in the sixties to USD40 in the early eighties. Nevertheless. R&D in EOR dropped especially profit-oriented international oil companies. The industry in general has taken up the challenge with reports on groundbreaking application of advanced telemetry and ultrasonic [14-15]. Injected chemicals may also be more corrosive and anticorrosion chemicals will be needed. R&D in improving recovery is no longer a side effect of high oil price but an absolute necessity to fuel the world's energy needs. But when the price dropped down to below USD20 for much of the eighties and nineties. However. Given the increasing consumption in Asia. seldom been accurate. A challenge will be to produce nontoxic multifunctional chemicals. The problem of excessive water production can be dealt with the addition of water control chemicals. EOR became important as tax breaks for companies operating in the USA. With today's EOR technologies. its production is not without problems.While EOR improves recovery. recovery is still at most 50%. the addition of chemicals can cause formation of emulsion near the wellbore areas. . Even though renewable biofuels are gaining popularity. national oil companies such as the Chinese and Norwegian oil companies continued to report EOR investigations. Saleri [13] estimated that 50 years of the world's need can be sustained by a 10% increase in recovery. new commercially viable reservoirs are needed to support the growing demand. Trends in EOR research Investigations on EOR have always been in tandem with the price of oil as illustrated by the frenetic pace in the seventies in the aftermath of oil embargoes. While guesses on the movement of oil prices are reported regularly. long term forecasts have Conclusions The main concerns in EOR are to reduce surface tension and increase sweep. Methods to break up emulsion cheaply and effectively to recover produced oil are a potential research area. oil companies began to invest seriously in EOR. many other problems exist and a wide range of expertise from other science and engineering discipline is needed.

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Five.spot pattern .To platform Sea bed impermeable rocks gas cap expands down new levels depth water level moves up to replace oil gas zone ( gas cap) Oil zone (formation) water zone (aquifer) impermeable rocks Figure 1: A Schematic of a Reservoir with Gas Cap and Aquifer injection well production well swept zone unswept zone Figure 2: Waterflooded Reservoir.